Irma in Boynton, pot dispensaries OK’d: Boynton’s top 5 stories of 2017

1. Hurricane Irma rakes Boynton:    Boynton Beach was spared the worst of the storm but there were other ramifications on the streets from the wind and rain. A 23-year-old woman died at The Inn at Boynton after overdosing on drugs, likely heroin, during the storm, police said. And two men fooled a 95-year-old woman into thinking they were electricians but really just wanted access to her home to steal jewelry and cash. Still, Boynton Beach police Sgt. Phil Hawkins said he expected much worse.

“We are lucky that was not a Category 5 or a 4 or a 3. We are lucky we just got smacked by some winds,” he said.

Irma’s winds tackled many trees to the ground. And it left many traffic signals powerless at busy intersections, giving drivers the ultimate test of patience and consideration, and comprehension of a four-way stop sign. And many residents would be left in the dark, and heat, for days, waiting for Florida Power & Light to reconnect them to the grid.

Gusts reached 67 mph, nearly nine inches of rain fell and there were multiple tornado warnings in Boynton during the peak hours but the winds felt far worse to those sitting through it.

2. Medical marijuana dispensaries: The City Commission in August voted to welcome in the dispensaries. Commissioner Christina Romelus wanted to ban the dispensaries and voted with Commissioner Mack McCray against the move.

The majority of Boynton’s commissioners voted to allow the businesses despite both staff and Police Chief Jeffrey Katz recommending they wait.

Andrew Mack, the city’s director of development, who has been analyzing the topic for the city, said it would be best to see how surrounding places handle the industry. And for those in the city who need the medicine, Mack said, state law allows home delivery.

The state law Gov. Rick Scott signed, which went into effect July 1, said cities can’t limit the number of shops in town. And state law says rules for locating dispensaries can’t be tougher than those for pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens.

Boynton hasn’t had a dispensary open yet. However businesses have opened in the city that will help those interested in being prescribed medical marijuana learn if they qualify and how to proceed. They do not dispense the marijuana though.

3. Police chief leaves: After nearly 20 years of working for the Boynton Beach Police Department, including four as its top cop, Chief Jeffrey Katz retired in December. He moved to Virginia to lead the Chesterfield County, Va., Police Department.

City manager Lori LaVerriere named Kelly Harris, who was an assistant chief, interim chief. LaVerriere is considering a national search for a new chief but will also accept interest from within the department. She said that is typically a 90- to 120-day process.

4. Officers indicted/found guilty: A federal jury found Sgt. Philip Antico guilty of obstruction of justice for lying to FBI agents about a 2014 high-speed chase, which involved officers beating driver Byron Harris and his two passengers. Another federal jury convicted officer Michael Brown of deprivation of rights under color of law and use of a firearm during a crime of violence for the beating of Jeffrey Braswell, one of Harris’ passengers.

They’re to be sentenced next month.

5. GL Homes: GL Homes’ proposal to build more housing in the Ag Reserve west of Boynton Beach developed into a battle that somewhat divided the county. GL promised to preserve land in its Indian Trails Grove tract in the midwestern county but drew fierce opposition from south-county residents who wanted to preserve the Ag Reserve. The Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations led the fight.

GL Homes withdrew their application in December, one day before the builder was to present to the county planning commission. They said they needed more time to make their case.

2018: Development

1. 500 Ocean

Construction on the development at Federal Highway and Ocean Avenue started in July 2015. Residents and the city’s leaders have been anxious for 500 Ocean’s completion because it’s expected to be the catalyst for downtown.

It’s expected to be finished this summer.

The project will ultimately have 341 apartments. And of the project’s 20,000 square feet of commercial space, about 2,000 is leased. Two businesses will move in to provide high-end women’s care such as hair and nails.

2. Riverwalk Plaza

Residents can expect to see the start of construction of the Riverwalk Plaza redevelopment come January.

Isram Realty, the owners of the plaza at the southeast corner of Federal Highway and Woolbright Road, will divide the project into four phases, with the 10-story apartment building being the last piece. That’s not expected to start until the end of next year.

Construction on Phase 1 will begin by mid-January. That phase will give the Walgreens and Jo-Ann Fabric building a face-lift.

3. Town Square

The renovation of Boynton’s historic high school is underway and is expected to be completed by August as one part of the Town Square project that will transform 16.5 acres of city-owned land into “Boynton Beach’s family room,” Assistant City Manager Colin Groff said.

Construction begins in March for the new police and fire stations and in June for the parking garage and City Hall and library. The target date for completion of the entire public part of the project is September 2019.

The land stretches from Boynton Beach Boulevard south to Southeast Second Avenue, and from Seacrest Boulevard east to Northeast First Street.

For about 20 years, the city has been talking about transforming this area. It will be done through a private/public partnership.

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